7 Common Dog Behavior Myths Decoded

By Mikkel Becker


Although dog training has become more of a science than a craft in recent years, some persistent myths still mislead us when reading canine behavior. Don't let a myth harm your relationship with your pooch. Here, we dispel common myths and look at the facts.

Thinkstock1. My dog knows she was bad after she goes potty in the house. Her guilty face says it all.

False. Dogs show a perceived "guilty face" not because they feel an actual emotion of guilt, but they are actually showing appeasement behaviors in response to their owners intimidating body language. Whether we want to or not, it's difficult not to display negative body language when we're upset with our pets. A 2009 study by researcher Alexandra Horowitz at Barnard College in New York revealed that the "guilty look" dogs display is solely attributed by humans and has no relation to whether the dog is actually responsible for an offense. The study found that dogs who had not actually eaten the forbidden treat, but were scolded by their misinformed owners for eating a treat, showed guiltier-looking body language than dogs who had actually eaten the forbidden treat. The guilty look is simply a response of the dog to her owner's behavior.

SEE ALSO: How to Stop Your Dog From Peeing in the House


2. You should let dogs just fight it out when they get into a scuffle.

False (well, at least partly false). It's true that you should never get into the middle of a dog fight, because some of the most damaging dog bites occur when owners try to separate fighting dogs. There are some tactics you can use to break up the scuffle without actually getting in the middle of the fray. Try using water, a really loud noise, or even a distraction like grabbing a treat bag or using voice to direct them to do something else. Owners should do everything they can to prevent another fight in the future. Often dogs don't settle matters on their own, and fighting intensifies over time, especially with dogs in the same home. This calls for advanced training with the help of an animal behaviorist or a certified professional trainer.

3. It's always the owner's fault when a dog misbehaves.

False. Most owners are well-meaning, but are simply misinformed or lack knowledge on how to train their dogs effectively. Blaming the owner for all of a dog's problems makes for good TV, but there are a myriad of reasons why a dog misbehaves, including lack of proper socialization or preventive training, or even the genetic tendencies of the dog. It's important for pet parents to push past feelings of shame or guilt; instead get started in the right direction with help from a pet professional using positive reinforcement methods.

SEE ALSO: 6 Top Ways to Bond With Your Dog


4. Using treats for training is bribery, and the dog won't do the behavior later if you don't give her a treat.

False. It's true that dogs need motivation to perform a behavior. That said, the motivation doesn't always have to be a food-based reward. Dogs can be rewarded in many other ways. Reward them with playing, petting or getting to go outside. They can also be put on a random schedule of rewards with a lottery-ticket-like system so they never know when the payout will come. This system helps keep them motivated. For example: learning to walk on a loose leash may be taught in the beginning by using treats, but once the behavior is learned, treats can be phased out so that the only reward becomes getting to go on the walk itself.

5. When a dog chews up shoes or destroys furniture it's because she's punishing the owner.

False. Dogs chew on shoes, furniture and other human items not to punish their owners, but simply because it feels good on their teeth, it relieves boredom, releases energy and, in some cases, may indicate separation anxiety.

See Also: 5 Once-Popular Dog Breeds That Are Sadly Losing Popularity


6. A dog can't really be happy unless she can run off-leash.

False. Leashes are made for a dog's safety. They should be perceived as tools that keep your dog from running into oncoming traffic, going up to unknown dogs or people, and prevent them from running way. Although regular off-leash play in a fenced area is essential for a dog's well-being, while out in public, dogs can learn to be perfectly content on a leash at their owner's side.

7. Dogs are great judges of people, so if a dog doesn't like someone, it must mean there is something wrong with that person.

False. In the majority of cases, dogs who react aggressively or fearfully to a person are not doing so out of a negative moral evaluation of the individual, but are responding out of their own self-preservation. With that said, there have been plenty of circumstances where pets have used an apparent sixth sense to pick up on cues that went unseen by their human and actually saved their human's life. However, the majority of dogs I see in my training practice are unfriendly with a person because they are reacting out of fear to a certain physical attribute, movement or the physical proximity of a person, and are not reacting based on any moral evaluation of the individual.

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